Opinion: Abbas’s responsibility for Gaza crisis

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is directly responsible for the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. 

By: Bassam Tawil, The Gatestone Institute

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is continuing to pursue a policy of double-dealing regarding the Gaza Strip.

On the one hand, President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership continue inciting against Israel by holding it solely responsible for the humanitarian and economic crisis in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Abbas and his Ramallah-based government continue to impose strict economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip.

Now, Abbas is bending over backwards to foil a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip. Abbas says he is worried that such a deal would pave the way for the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.

Although they have never seen the Trump plan, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah claim that it envisages the establishment of a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip. They also argue that the Trump plan seeks to transform the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from a political and national conflict into one that is related only to humanitarian and economic issues. Abbas says he fears that the humanitarian and economic aid that the international community is promising to the Gaza Strip, as part of a ceasefire deal, is aimed at extracting concessions from the Palestinians, especially on issues related to Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Abbas claims ceasefire solidifies Palestinian rift

Abbas also claims that any ceasefire agreement would solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He argues that the PLO, the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” is the only party authorized to sign an agreement with Israel.

ٍReminder: In March 2018, Abbas and his government decided to impose a series of punitive measures against his own people: the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The measures include, among other things, halting payments to thousands of civil servants and forcing thousands of others into early retirement. He also decided to stop paying Israel for the electricity it supplies to the Gaza Strip and limited the amount of medicine shipments to the coastal enclave.

Abbas has defended his sanctions against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by arguing that Hamas was refusing to hand control over the coastal Gaza enclave to his government in accordance with previous “reconciliation” agreements signed between his ruling Fatah faction and Hamas.

Subsequently, violent riots by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border — organized by Hamas and labelled as the “March of Return” — which began in March, reached their peak when arson kites and balloons were launched into Israel.

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In other words, it is Abbas himself who bears full responsibility for the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Were it not for his sanctions, the Palestinian factions would not have waged the “March of Return” — the primary goal of which is to protest the deteriorating conditions inside the Gaza Strip, for which they blame Israel rather than their own leaders. The blood of the more than 150 Palestinians killed in the riots is on his hands alone.

The violence of the past few months along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel could have been avoided had Abbas agreed to lift the sanctions he himself imposed on the two million residents of the Gaza Strip. He chose, however, to continue his measures so that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip would continue directing their anger towards Israel. Abbas has no headquarters or offices in the Gaza Strip where the Palestinians there can protest against him. So, he had nothing to worry about when he decided to punish his own people. He also had nothing to worry about regarding the international community because he knows that, as usual, it will blame only Israel for the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas says deal is a conspiracy

Today, as Egypt, the United Nations and other parties scramble to reach a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, Abbas suddenly seems to be feeling uncomfortable. In the past few days, he and his senior officials in Ramallah have been inciting against the proposed ceasefire deal by claiming that it is part of an Israeli-American conspiracy to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and pave the way for the implementation of Trump’s unseen peace plan. Abbas is especially worried that the international community will be funding economic and humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip behind his back. He wants the money to be spent through his government. He wants to control every penny the international community earmarks for the welfare of his people.

Let us get to the nitty-gritty: Abbas is seeking to prolong the suffering of his people in the Gaza Strip so that he can keep deflecting the Palestinians’ rage and violence toward Israel. He also seems to be hoping that the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip might prompt the Palestinians living there to revolt against Hamas. While he has succeeded in his first goal — triggering a wave of protests against Israel — Abbas’s desire to see Palestinians rise against his rivals in Hamas has thus far been unsuccessful.

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Instead of helping to resolve the crisis in the Gaza Strip, Abbas is continuing to pour oil on the fire by inciting against Israel and the US administration. In recent speeches before the PLO Central Council in Ramallah, Abbas has repeatedly denounced Israel and the US and accused them of conspiring against the Palestinians and of being “partners” in “crimes” against the Palestinians. He has also vowed to continue his boycott of the US administration because of its “bias” in favor of Israel.

It is not clear how a ceasefire in return for improving the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is linked to any Israeli-American conspiracy. Since when is economic and humanitarian aid considered a conspiracy against the Palestinians?

Abbas does not care about his people

Abbas, like most Arab leaders, never cared about improving the living conditions of the Palestinians. They could easily have helped the Palestinians build a strong economy and proper state institutions. Instead, Abbas and these Arab leaders want to keep the Palestinians living in refugee camps and poverty so that they can continue extorting money from the world and putting all the blame on Israel. Arab leaders seem to care about only one thing: enriching their personal bank accounts and securing the future of their own sons and daughters.

How can he talk about Trump’s purported peace plan when neither he nor any Palestinian has ever seen it? How do he and his senior PLO official, Saeb Erekat, know that Trump’s purported plan is aimed at “liquidating” the Palestinian cause and national rights?

Equally disingenuous is that Abbas, who is responsible for the current wave of violence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, is now demanding that the international community, specifically the UN, provide “international protection” for the Palestinians against Israeli measures. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Abbas’s Foreign Ministry accused Israel of committing “crimes” against Palestinians civilians, especially in the Gaza Strip, and renewed the call to provide international protection” for the Palestinians.

This is the same Abbas whose sanctions are depriving cancer patients of chemotherapy medicine in the Gaza Strip.

This is the same Abbas whose sanctions have deprived thousands of civil servants of their salaries in the Gaza Strip.

This is the same Abbas whose sanctions have triggered the recent violence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

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Abbas does not want sanctions lifted

Abbas is calling for “international protection” for the Palestinians while he is doing everything he can to wreak havoc on his people in the Gaza Strip. He does not want a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel; he does not want to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip, and he does not want the international community directly to fund economic and humanitarian projects that would improve the living conditions of his people. So what exactly does Abbas want? He wants the people of the Gaza Strip to continue protesting so that he will be able to continue to demonize Israel.

Worse, Abbas does not want his people to raise their voice against his sanctions. Palestinians who have been protesting against his punitive measures in the West Bank have been repeatedly beaten by Abbas’s police forces. Just last week, Abbas’s security officers broke up a peaceful protest in Ramallah against his sanctions.

Abbas is fine with protests as long as they call for bringing down Israel or the US. But Palestinians who dare to criticize his policies often find themselves subjected to various forms of punishment, including detention and beatings.

Abbas’s crackdown on protests against his sanctions are yet another sign of his policy of double standards regarding the Gaza Strip. If anyone needs “international protection,” it is those protesters who are being targeted by Abbas’s security forces in the West Bank. Abbas’s actions and words have shown that the well-being of his people is the very last thing on his mind.

Abbas has one strategy: to incite his people against Israel and the US. He is prepared to fight against Israel and the US to the last Palestinian. It is a battle he is waging at the cost of cancer patients and needy families. For him, a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip is a bad thing because it could bring calm and deprive him of his ability to whip up hatred against Israel and the US.

The question remains: Will the international community allow Abbas to continue playing his dirty game at the expense of his people or will it wake up and realize that Abbas is part of the problem, not part of the solution? The best way of employing pressure on Abbas is by making it clear to him that as long as he continues with his policies, including the incitement against Israel and the US, the international community will not fund his government.

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.